By BRETT MARSHALL
Less than 24 hours after struggling in a woeful 35-26 loss at Dodge City on Tuesday, Garden City Buffaloes boys' basketball coach Jacy Holloway decided to shuffle his lineup for Friday's home game against Great Bend at The Garden.
And while the jury is still out, at least according to the Buffs' head man, there were some positive results, the biggest of which came in the form of a 53-43 triumph over the Panthers that evened the Buffs' Western Athletic Conference record to 1-1 and improved them to 5-3 overall. Great Bend, meanwhile, slips to 2-4 overall and 0-1 in the WAC.
Friday's starting lineup consisted of senior Mitchell Hernandez, juniors Miguel Olivas, Luis Rodriguez and Akil Love, and sophomore Jared Koster. Only Hernandez and Rodriguez were regular starters.
"When coach told us Wednesday, it felt amazing," said Love, who scored six points and grabbed six rebounds while coming up with several steals and some key buckets in the final half. "It helped me get my nerves under control. I think it worked out pretty well. We had a small lineup, and a tall lineup, and I think mixing it up really worked for us quite a bit."
The Buffs, who struggled miserably in their loss on Tuesday at Dodge, didn't look much better in the early going, trailing 12-8 after one quarter, but scoring only four points in the first six minutes.
"I'm not so sure the message was received," Holloway said afterward. "It looks like it might take some time. We were still solid defensively, but that's two games where we were low-scoring and we're still not making the easy shots. We're missing layups and free throws (9 of 19) and it's either a focus thing or a confidence thing. I haven't figured it out yet."
The Buffs did get untracked some in the second quarter, outscoring the Panthers 17-7 to take a 25-19 lead into the locker room at intermission.
But when the third quarter started, it was back to the scoring doldrums.
"I don't know what it is, but it almost looks like test anxiety," Holloway said of the Buffs' struggles. "Something just speeds us up. It makes us late on screens and cuts. They are things that are stopping us offensively because we have to have all five guys working together and doing our stuff at the right time. That's not happening."
Caleb Tramp, the Buffs' 6-foot-5 junior inside force, did come off the bench to score a game-high 15 points off 7-of-11 shooting and had seven rebounds. But still, there were lapses at both ends of the court by nearly every player at different times, Holloway said.
"But the big thing was to get a win, and I'm pleased with that," Holloway said. "You've got to win at home. Every WAC game is gonna be tough. Everybody knows each other so well, that if you don't execute to a 'T', you're gonna dig yourself a hole."
Usual starting point guard Tristan Nanninga managed nine points, but the other usual starter — Hunter Delgado — was scoreless before fouling out late.
In a scary reminder of Tuesday's icy shooting, the Buffs reverted back to scoring only eight points in the third, but the Panthers were just as bad, scoring just five. That provided the Buffs a 33-24 lead heading into the final eight minutes, where they built their biggest lead to 51-37 with just over a minute left. Great Bend never came closer than seven.
The Buffs improved their shooting to 38.8 percent off 21-of-54 shots, but the free throwing (47.3 percent) left Holloway scratching his head.
Great Bend won the rebounding battle 34-32, and the Panthers' lone double-figure scorer was Dillon Reiser with 13 points. Great Bend managed just 14-of-38 shots for 36.8 percent and were 12 of 20 at the charity stripe. Neither team could buy much behind the 3-point arc, Great Bend going 3 of 11 to Garden City's 2 of 11.
Notes: Friday's game was the first of three consecutive home contests for the Buffs prior to their trip to Valley Center for the January Jam Invitational on Jan. 23 to 25.
The GCHS boys will host Liberal on Tuesday and Hays on Friday to finish out the first half of the double round-robin schedule in the Western Athletic Conference.
The bracket for the January Jam has been announced with the Buffs receiving the No. 4 seed, which puts them against host Valley Center in the Jan. 23 opening round. The game will be scheduled for an 8:30 p.m. tipoff. Also in the upper bracket will be top-seeded Wichita Southeast against Kansas City Turner (6:45 p.m.).
In the lower portion of the bracket, it will be No. 2-seeded Blue Valley Northwest vs. No. 7 Topeka Seaman (5 p.m.) and No. 3 Junction City against No. 6 Olathe Northwest (3:15 p.m.)
Great Bend 12 7 5 19 -- 43
Garden City 8 17 8 20 -- 53
Great Bend (43) — Westhoff 0-0 1-2 1, Ibarra 0-6 0-0 0, Crosby 3-4 2-3 9, Beck 1-5 6-8 8, Sullivan 0-1 0-1 0, Reiser 5-12 1-1 13, Bryant 2-4 1-2 5, Warren 3-6 1-3 7. Totals 14-38 12-20 43.
Garden City (53) — Tramp 7-11 1-1 15, Delgado 0-3 0-2 0, Olivas 2-6 1-4 6, Koster 2-7 2-2 6, Hernandez 1-8 1-2 3, Nanninga 4-10 1-2 9, Rodriguez 1-2 2-2 4, Parr 0-1 1-2 1, Love 3-3 0-0 6, Rincones 1-3 0-2 3, Gurrola 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-54 9-19 53.
3-point goals--Great Bend 3-11 (Ibarra 0-2, Crosby 1-1, Sullivan 0-1, Reiser 2-7), Garden City 2-11 (Delgado 0-1, Olivas 1-3, Koster 0-1, Hernandez 0-4, Rincones 1-2). Rebounds--Great Bend 34 (Crosby, Warren 6 each), Garden City 32 (Tramp 7). Turnovers--Great Bend 19, Garden City 10. Fouls--Great Bend 17, Garden City 20. Fouled out--Garden City (Delgado).